Day 561 of Life on the Road as a Family, the Grand Canyon

IMG_1157The view of the north Kaibab trail from the Bright Angel  viewpoint.  That huge gap on the left is the canyon that Dan and Nate hiked, all the way out to the end and the Colorado River.  The far side is the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  It’s our last day here and I am cherishing every view we can take in.

IMG_1169We sat for awhile on the back porch of the lodge, enjoying that view!

IMG_1179The front drive and view of the Lodge.  They’ve recently put on a new roof and it’s disconcerting versus the very old interior. When you walk in the front door area under the flag, you go down a funky old staircase to a room that has huge windows and the best view of the canyon on the north rim!  Even when the lodge burned and they re-built it, they kept the floor plan that the original architect had designed.  It’s beautiful. Go visit.  It’ll be as hard for you to leave as it was us.

IMG_1204Back at our campsite, we made the last S’mores of our Grand Canyon week.  They were delicious!  We played board games (Eliza won), laughed about the dogs’ antics, and talked about every fun thing we’d done that week. Truly a dream come true that Dan and I got to take our kids to the Grand Canyon and we won’t soon forget our magical week.

Day 560 of Life on the Road as a Family, the Grand Canyon!

Today’s the big day!  Eliza and I are hiking into the canyon to meet the men, who hiked down to Phantom Ranch yesterday and are hiking the 14.5 miles back out today.  We thought it would be fun to meet them on the trail, instead of just waiting at the top trail head.  Oh, silly us.

IMG_1086Here we are, 7:38 a.m. blissfully unaware about what it going to happen…

IMG_1099Here’s the view down the north Kaibab trail to the canyon, and the operative word is down.  As we were hiking, we kept talking about how far we were going to go to meet the men. Should we stop at Coconino point?  We have to make the tunnel, can we go further?  Could we make it to Redwall bridge?  Could I make it through the Eye of the Needle and walk along the cliff edge?  I wanted Eliza to see the springs, could I make it that far?

IMG_1104Turns out that we could only make it to this gorgeous bridge, Redwall.  It had taken us an hour and 40 minutes to hike the 2.7 miles down, with the last .7 taking us a long time. Too slow compared to other hikes and I was frustrated.  There were small pebbles and huge rocks on the trail and we were both stepping carefully so we wouldn’t get hurt.  We slid many times, but never hit the ground, so that was good.  I knew going back straight up was going to be a slog, and as much as we wanted to meet the men further on, I knew they wouldn’t be happy to hike the last miles of their long day slowly.  So we had lunch on the bridge and headed back out.

It was hot, but not as hot as it had been the week before. We were so lucky!  Only in the 80’s, with an occasional cloud cover that saved us from baking in the stone canyon.  We hiked with a few people heading down, and many of them had no water.  There are huge signs on every trail head stating how much water you would need for how long of a hike, but many people didn’t heed the instructions.  Crazy.

As we were going back up, there were tons of people on the trail and we did a lot of side-stepping of the mules’ leftovers.  I actually had one foot on the trail and one foot on the side of the mountain as one mule train passed, and the rider didn’t keep the mule to their side of the trail and almost stepped on me.  I was able to jump to the side of the mountain with both feet, staying out of the ditch and out from under the mule.  Needless to say, we think mules should have their own trails on the rim, and stay off the hiker trails.  If you’re too lazy to hike this hard, stay on the rim!

IMG_1139Here we are back at the Coconino overlook, whew.  I’m holding the sign to keep me up!  We rested here for about 20 minutes, telling a couple of nice guys about Bend, and the whole time, I was watching the trail below us for the men.  I knew they would have left Phantom Ranch at 5:30 a.m., and it was 14.5 miles out, so they should be catching us any minute.  Eliza had just headed up the trail again when I saw them below us and I hollered to her to keep going, and we’d catch up.  She had been patiently waiting for me the whole hike up, and wanted to see how fast she could do the last .7 miles, so she was going on ahead. As I watched the guys stride, I knew I was in trouble because they were coming up much faster than I’d be able to go.

I’d had my PBJ, so I took off up the trail after Eliza.  I had hollered hello to the men, but they didn’t hear me.  Eliza made it to the top in 15 minutes, while I made it in another 15, and the guys were 15 minutes after that.  So we didn’t get to hike with them as we had planned, but we also didn’t hold them up.

IMG_1148Here are Nate and Dan coming up the trail at the end!  I am “whooping and hollering”, which of course, Nate could have done without.  I was and am so proud of them.  29 miles in 2 days, with a steak dinner at Phantom Ranch, and 100 degree temperatures in the canyon.  Going down, search and rescue had them go around a hiker who had died on the trail, so they knew what a tough hike it was.

IMG_1151Here they are!  Tired, hungry and full of stories of their hike.  Dan told Eliza and I that we did the hardest 5.4 miles of the hike, so that made us feel better.  Well, a little better, we were all exhausted.  Another perfect day on the road and a dream come true to hike the north Kaibab trail with our kids.

Day 558 of Life on the Road as a Family, Widforss hike

We all slept in and I made a huge breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs and homemade maple syrup.  We’ve had so many mornings where we are rushing out the door to hike or play that it was nice to take it easier for awhile.  I’m laughing because we think we’re so busy – we’ve been recreating full-time for a month now!  Like being busy is something to whine about while we’re travelling in paradise.  We are all so grateful to be done with online school – forever.  Never again.

Eliza and I headed out to hike the Widforss trail, excited to see what it would be like.  It didn’t disappoint us; it was a beautiful trail and really well maintained so no worries for my ankle/foot.  I had been wrapping it full-time and it really helped to keep moving. I was determined to keep hiking; no way was I coming to the Grand Canyon and sitting around. Another bonus to this was trail was that it didn’t allow mules.  At the trailhead there was a sign instructing us to stay away from the blue grouse that was protecting her nest, and we heard from other hikers that she was agitated.  When we got to the pink tape, Eliza was quick enough to realize that we had to head off to the right of the trail, to a temporary one that they built to keep us away from the grouse.  So all those other hikers had gone under the pink tape into her area!

IMG_0922I keep forgetting to put all my flowers pictures in the blog!  I take tons of them and enjoy them immensely, but haven’t taken the time to find out what they are all called.  My Dad is an expert in wildflowers, so I’m planning to show them all to him when we get home and he can tell us what they are.  The flowers in December in the Keys were beyond description they were so pretty and fragrant, but I appreciate even this tiny flower when we hike.

IMG_0965This was the 5 mile turn around point for our hike and Eliza was brave enough to walk out there for this picture.  Isn’t that an incredible view?!  We sat and just stared for awhile, enjoying it.  Dan and I have talked for years about bringing the kids to hike here, so for me, it’s a dream come true to be on the trail with my daughter.  I did venture out to the point, briefly, before practically crawling back to the flat trail.

IMG_0978You can’t see my heart racing or my knees shaking in this pic!

Day 556 of Life on the Road as a Family, the Uncle Tim hike

Our first full day on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and we couldn’t wait to get our boots on a trail!  We thought we’d go easy to get acclimated to the altitude, and I’m so glad we did…

IMG_0783Here’s Eliza at the point!  We had hiked the Ken Patrick trail to get to the Uncle Tim hike, so did about 8 miles total.  It was so beautiful to look out over the canyon at this spot.   We could see the trail down to Phantom Ranch off to the right.  For part of the hike we had shared the trail with mules and their tourist riders and it was beyond gross.  The views made up for it.  On the way back, I twisted my ankle right after thinking, “oh, Eliza should be careful right there or she’ll twist her foot on those rocks.”  Ouch!  Re-injuring my Memphis sprain was not what I planned for a week of hiking at the Grand Canyon.

The men quickly hiked back to our campsite and brought the car to the trail head for me.  Eliza stayed with me, of course, because number one, she is the sweetest human being I know, and number two, we live by the hiking rule that you never leave someone alone.  So instead of exploring more trails, we headed back to rig to relax.

IMG_0813We spent the rest of the day hanging out around the fire, reading, and watching the thunderheads build up, and listening to the birds. Another perfect day on the road!

Day 555 of Life on the Road as a Family, the Grand Canyon

It’s the day we make it to the Grand Canyon!  It was 86 degrees at 8:15 a.m. in Page, so we were ready to get to over 8,000 feet elevation and cool off a little…

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I had forgotten how beautiful the drive is to the north rim.  Views as far as you can see, which now include recent wildfires that they allow to burn to restore the forest.  We could tell as we drove through how old the burns were, from very new to at least 15 years old, from the new growth.  It was a lovely day for a drive to our version of paradise.

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And by paradise I mean the north rim of the Grand Canyon, not the south.  It’s not that we’re anti-social, we just don’t like crowds when he hike, and the pure beauty of the Grand Canyon is still on the north rim.  After driving the windy road for what seemed like hours, we checked in to the campground and went to find our campsite. Score! Dan and I choose a good one online, yeah.  We had a pull-through on the edge of the campground, facing a hill of trees – perfect.  We also didn’t have electricty, sewer or water, which was going to be a challenge for 7 days.  The rig needs electricity to keep the batteries charged, and as much as we love dry camping, we had to turn the generator on each day to keep the batteries charged.

IMG_0749We got set up quickly and went out to the 1.5 mile Transept trail to hike to the lodge.  I was so excited to see the kids’ expressions when they saw how big the Grand Canyon really is, and we had been waiting our whole trip to get here.  They were so surprised!  Even when you read about it and see videos, it’s still HUGE when you stand on the edge.  We took a few pictures, then hiked up the steps to the lodge’s famous back porch. Best view in the world!  They used to have rockers, but now they have a row of Adirondack chairs that you can use to just sit and stare.  We didn’t stay long, however, beacause it was too hot.

Inside the main area that has couches and chairs and a view that doesn’t stop,  we sat down to cool off and Dan was able to check his email.  We found out that we had a rental house for when we get home, yahoo!  We’d been working since January to find a home for our return August 1st.  Of all the ironic things, now that the mortgage industry has a few more rules, we aren’t able to buy again immediately because we don’t have jobs.  Details, details.  We found a rental in our preferred school area, and once again, we feel blessed.  I really do believe that if you work hard and trust God, good things happen in your life.  (And when the crappy things happen to us, I still trust Him!)

We hiked back to the campsite on another trail and then just lazed around our site.  Nate built a fire and we cooked brats and corn, toasted our buns and cooked the beans in the can.  So fun to be totally outside and we cannot believe we are really here.  We made it to the Grand Canyon!!!

Day 554 of Life on the Road as a Family, 4 Corners

IMG_0586New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah – all at once!  It’s the only place in the union where you can touch 4 states at once, so fun.  When we were here in 1998, we parked in the dirt and with a bunch of other dorky tourists, tried to find the 2″ marker.

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Now it’s a full blown tourist trap, just like the Royal Gorge, but you must see it!  You drive down a long road, pay $5/head to the local tribe, and proceed to the parking lot.  Then you walk with dozens of other people to stand in line for your chance to get a picture.  I heard 6 other languages, 3 of which I don’t even know, so there was quite an international crowd.  After you finish getting your picture taken by a stranger on your phone, you can walk the perimeter of shops that are permanently there.  They sell everything from jewelry to local food.  We barely looked because I’d already bought my jewelry, and we had a long way to go to Page.  Plus, it was 95 degrees in the shade.  Time to get back in the rig, crank up the A/C and see more road!

Days 551 & 552 of Life on the Road as a Family, Mesa Verde

IMG_0232Here is the 32′ ladder we had to climb as part of the Balcony House tour at Mesa Verde National Park!  Two people side by side at a time.  I can barely look at the picture now without my hands shaking. Which they did for 2 hours after finishing the tour. We had the best tour guide, learned a ton about how the Ancestral Publeans lived in this cliff house dwelling, and loved every minute of the hour tour.  This ladder was the first obstacle, then there was a 12′ tunnel to climb through. Ick.  Behind strangers. Gross.   As we stood listening to the guide, I calmed down and thought, “whew, I made it through” and was so proud of myself.  Then we went around the corner and I saw that there were two more ladders – both of these with the same backdrop – nothing  – if you fell off – argh!!!  What?!  I thought we were done.

IMG_0241Here’s part of the Balcony House! Built hundreds of feet off the valley floor, on the side of the cliff.  When Dan and I toured here in 1998, they called the people who lived here the Anasazi, which is no longer correct.  That term means “ancient enemy” in another language, which is incorrect because the people calling them that were the foreigners, not the cliff dwellers.  Also, they told us in 1998 that they didn’t know what happened to this group of people, that they occupied this area 1400 years ago, but then just disappeared.

Now they’ve done more research and have figured out that the Ancestral Publeons had depleted the resouces of the area  by cutting down all the available trees for building homes and burning for fuel, they killed all the large animals and were only eating smaller animals, and there was a long drought.  Tribe members from southern New Mexico and Colorado have come forward in recent years and explained how their ancestors were from Mesa Verde and they know from the stories that were passed down.  Also, the scientists studied the garbage and learned many more details.  We were glad to hear an explanation that made sense.

IMG_0353After dinner back at the rig, we took a hike up to the mesa near the campground.  It was 2 miles straight up and we were racing as fast as we could go because the sign at the trailhead said you had to be off the trail by sunset – which is what we had gone up there to see in the first place!  It was a beautiful night for a hike and the bugs weren’t out, yeah.  Nate had so much energy that he RAN down the trail in 15 minutes. We saw him flying across the meadow at the bottom and couldn’t believe it! Then he ran back up to join us.

IMG_0402The next morning we drove an hour out to the far mesa and took the tour for Long House.  Dan and I hadn’t been able to get out to this mesa in 1998 because they don’t allow RV’s over 25′ to drive out the crazy winding road, and they wouldn’t let us ride our bikes or hitchhike out.  I am so happy that we got to go this time!  It was definitely our favorite tour of the whole park and well worth making the reservations and paying $4/each.  It took two hours and the ladder was easy compared to the other tours.  If you can only do one tour, do this one! And by the way, it should technically be called Questa Verde because a mesa is flat, and all of them in the park have a 7 degree angle; they aren’t flat.  When we asked a ranger why they don’t rename the park, he said all the marketing is already set up for Mesa Verde.  Whatever the name, go visit, it’s breathtaking and you’ll learn a ton.  Just beware the ladders…

Day 548 of Life on the Road as a Family, Durango to Ouray

Dan decided that he wanted to ride his bike from Durango to Ouray, 66 miles away.  There was no way the kids and I would even consider it, so we wished him well.  He left at 5:30 a.m. on Eliza’s bike, which has 21 gears, weighs 30 pounds, and will fit on the tow vehicle’s car rack when we meet him in Ouray to give him a ride back.  With the additional water, he was probably carrying another 10 pounds of water.  Ouch!

The kids and I left at 8 a.m. to find Potato Lake, supposedly an easy 2+ mile loop a few miles off the main highway.  The website said you needed a 4-wheel drive, but we really wanted to see the lake, so we took our little Fiesta and drove as far back as we could then parked it and got out and walked the road.  There were many other vehicles parked like ours, and rental Jeeps passed us a few times.

IMG_9846I really like this picture because of the kids, the beautiful lake and view,  AND the fact that the unmarked trailhead is behind me, and we didn’t know, so we hiked 8.5 miles round trip trying to find it!  Up and down a huge hill in heat so hot Nate took our handkerchiefs, climbed up to a little creek, and got them wet so we could wear them around our necks.  We kept going because we wanted the exercise and the views were so good we couldn’t stop. The only reason we finally turned around was that we knew Dan was riding to Ouray and we didn’t want him to beat us.

He beat us!  We had to drive up and over the two passes that he rode, and we couldn’t believe he’d done it.  He gained over 7,500′ on both passes and again, our little car could barely make it up these huge mountains. Plus, the road was on the edge a few times and I was scared even driving it.  I couldn’t imagine riding it and having cars pass quickly on my left.  People drove like maniacs, too.  I had a semi pass me on a long corner and all I could do was slow down to let him go and shake my head. Double yellow line at 11,000′.  Crazy.

IMG_0068Here’s the little town of Ouray, nestled in the mountains.  When we were here before we hiked all over town and up into the mountains, but this time we just looked at it and headed to…

IMG_9924Ouray Hot Springs!  Heaven!  The hottest area of the pool was only 103 degrees, but it felt great for all of us. Dan had ridden the 66 miles in 6 1/2 hours and we had hiked the 8.5 miles in under 3 hours, so we were all sore.  We did the slides a few times, but the kids wouldn’t climb up on the water trampoline with me, and I was so nice, I didn’t do it by myself and embarass them.  I did swim laps for a 1/2 mile in the lanes and it was heaven, too, but I knew everyone was ready to head home, so I quit and headed over to them.

We did the 66 miles back to Durango with the windows down, the hot wind blowing in,  and Nate trying to figure out how to shove one more pretzel stick in his mouth.  He made it to 66 and I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.  That’s what this trip of a lifetime is all about – fun, sun and memories made during yet another spectacular day.  Go live your dream.  I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

Day 545 of Life on the Road as a Family, the Durango to Silverton Railroad!

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We’ve waited 17 years to ride this train with our kids! in 1998 when Dan and I came through the area, we said, “someday, we will come back here and take our (hoped for-prayed for) kids on this train. And today is the day!

IMG_9474Dan, Nate and Eliza at 7:30 in the morning, ready for our 8 a.m. departure. (They want you there early!)  If you go, buy tickets way in advance for Gondola Car 1, seats 1 – 20.  You get the best view of the gorge and river on the 45 mile ride to Silverton, less coal dust on your face, and you get the sun in the afternoon on the way back.  We were in seats 30-34, so we spent a lot of time turned around looking over the other people’s shoulders for views of the river, but we didn’t care!  People were really nice to each other and the views of the canyon were gorgeous no matter where you looked.  Everyone in our car stood up for most of the day, too, leaning way out to take pictures of friends and the view.

IMG_9508Like this.  Heaven.  Perfect temperature, sunny, no rain.

The railroad track was originally called the Silverton Branch and was built by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway from 1881-1882.  The mineral riches in Silverton (get the name?!) had been their goal since 1876 and men were fighting over who would get there first.  Deep in the San Juan mountains, riding this train is the popular way to see this view.  We saw two kayakers and have a friend who ran it years ago, but it’s even so remote that it’s hard to hike into, so we felt lucky to finally get to see it.  Another friend of mine told me later that he’d never seen the water this high here, ever.  (Thank you Colorado for the wettest May on record.)

The coal-powered train winds and climbs for 3 1/2 hours, with beautiful views the whole way, before you get off in the dumpy little town of Silverton.  It hasn’t had anything good happen to it since we were there in 1998, which is sad after all the growth we saw on the front range of Colorado.  The couple who own the railroad now are buying the oldest hotel in town to restore it and hopefully have it become a destination resort, but for now the town is full of tourist souvenir shops, a few places to eat, and tons of boarded up old buildings.  The railroad runs over 200,000 people through Silverton each year and we did our best to leave some cash for the locals so they can survive the winter.

IMG_9538Mt. Garfield on the trip back to Durango.  Half our car took naps after lunch – it was warm, they had full bellies, and the train really does lull you by rocking.  I took the cutest picture of my family sleeping but they’d be unhappy with me if I posted it here, darn!

IMG_9690The railroad track was originally built as 35 gauge,which is really narrow,  but now it’s 85 gauge.  We saw pieces of the track lying off to the side and when we were on the edge of the cliff like this, I was grateful for the heavier track!

IMG_9747And last but not least, here’s the corny picture taken by the professional photographer on the train that we paid $35 for!  It would have been nice if she would have told me that I had coal dust all over my face, but I still love it because it represents 17 years of dreaming of taking this trip with our kids and it was a perfect day, to be remembered long into our future.

Day 542 of Life on the Road as a Family, Los Alamos

IMG_9265This was another one of those special days where I was  glad that we left time in our schedule to add a city in that maybe we hadn’t planned on seeing… this is the highway to Los Alamos, and the numerous laboratories which spawned the Manhattan Project, (the likes of which we hopefully won’t see again) the atomic bomb.  Tucked way back up past the hills on a few flat mesas 60 miles from Santa Fe, this highway used to be a dangerous two lane dirt road.  Heavily guarded after the military moved in, before that it was a ranch which housed an outdoor boys school  that was modeled on the Boys Scouts.  The school was the lifelong dream of Detroit businessman Ashley Pond II, it was taken over by the military in November of 1942 after the head of the Manhatten project, J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested it because he had been camping and hunting in the area.  They wanted somewhere remote and secure, and he liked the area.  Pond gave it up as a matter of national pride, and it was never used as a school again.

We walked around for awhile and found it to be a charming little town that entertains thousands of visitors like us every year and is home to laboratories that still employ 11,000 people.  There was a kids science camp on the main lawn, and Eliza and I both wanted to join so we could pet the burros.  We visited the museum inside the old school house, saw “bathtub row”, the row of houses for the scientists famous because they had the only bathtubs in town, and then headed to the museum for our daily dose of history.  It’s free (thank you, our taxes) and so full of facts, games and information that we could have spent a week.  Dan and I learned more about the Manhatten Project than we ever had in school, and the kids got a glimpse of what life was like in the 1940’s when our country was worried about what all the other countries were up to, and we couldn’t Google it every morning.

IMG_9290On the walls there were stories about employees who had worked on the project and many of them mentioned the secrecy that was involved.  Even though they worked there, many didn’t know exactly what they were working on.  When it came time to test the atomic bomb, 3 men hiked to a mesa 230 miles away from the test site, not knowing exactly what was to happen, but wanting to “see it” nonetheless.  They all 3 lived to regret that day.

It was sad to read about the build-up to the dropping of the actual bombs and the aftermath from those affected.  I cannot imagine a world where the US had to take such a drastic action, and I hope and pray that it’s never used again.  But there are 11,000 people who continue to work on our nuclear capabilities here – some uses that they mentioned, such as storage, and I’m sure, many that a regular citizen like me will never know about.  Maybe it’s best that I don’t know so I can sleep at night.  I’m still glad that we added a trip to Los Alamos to our adventure.